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Local Lady, Stranded in New Zealand During Pandemic, Lands Herself a Lockdown Fellow

photo of Carol and Al

During the pandemic, NHPR has received hundreds - if not thousands - of emails from listeners. People have written in expressing frustration with the government, or school closures, or to sing the praises of the National Guard and healthcare workers. 

One recent email stood out for where it was sent from: an Epping, New Hampshire woman named Carol Clapp writing from halfway around the globe.

(Editor’s note: we highly recommend you listen to this story.)

“I have been stuck in New Zealand on the bottom of the South Island in a town called Riverton for the past year and a half because of the coronavirus,” Clapp told NHPR during a Zoom interview last week.

“Yeah, there are birds. And that’s a gum tree, a eucalyptus behind me,” she said while seated in the sunshine on her back porch.

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Clapp has been riding out the pandemic sitting underneath a eucalyptus tree in New Zealand, a country that instituted and followed strict public health guidelines, and within months, had stamped out COVID-19.

photo of Carol at racetrack
Credit Courtesy
Carol and Al frequent the local racetrack, where they like to bet the ponies.

So how exactly did she end up stuck there?

“It’s a long story,” said Clapp. 

After growing up on the family farm in Epping, Clapp was married to a man named David for 43 years. They liked to travel, and in 1978 they vacationed in New Zealand. Twenty years later, their son decided to go to college there, where he studied welding. 

“We ended up buying a house,” she said. “David and I, well, he died five years ago. But we came down here for the past 19 years, just for the summers.”

After David’s death, Clapp, who is now 73, continued making the 30-hour trip each year, leaving Epping in October, and getting a return ticket each April. She’s a long-distance snowbird.

So she was in the small town of Riverton when COVID exploded last March, and couldn’t leave.

“New Zealand immigration wasn’t letting anybody leave the country or come into the country because they take the virus very seriously here. So they gave all of us stranded tourists, visitor-types, six month extension on our visas,” she said.

Photo of Al in a field
Credit Courtesy
Al enjoys a picnic.

She then received another extension; the government has been gracious to Clapp.

And it turns out, so have some of the locals. 

“Well, I've had quite a year here. In that, I got a boyfriend out of the lockdown, and Al is my new man, and he just takes really good care of me,” Clapp said. “And I’ve been having a wonderful time during this terrible crisis.”

Clapp said she met Al one evening at a bar in the nearby city of Invercargill.

“I’ve never picked a man up before, but I just couldn’t leave this guy alone,” Clapp said.

Al turned out to be a wonderful guy to spend a pandemic with, in part, because “he’s been really good with doing activities that waste time, like playing poker, and betting on horses, and playing pool, a lot of pool.”

After the interview, Clapp said she and Al had plans to go into town and dance at a bar. 

No masks, no social distancing. After New Zealand emerged from a strict lockdown last spring, Clapp said her life there had returned to normal.

But her actual normal life is in New Hampshire, where her family resides. So next month, when her visa expires, she plans on coming home to Epping.

That’s the reason she originally reached out to NHPR: she had questions about the vaccination process. 

But Clapp is optimistic her love story will not be dimmed by a change in time zones.

“I’m buying an iPad, and I'm going to make him take lessons on email,” she said. “And I’ve given him my old iPhone. I'm going to make him write me love letters through email. He might even Zoom. Who knows? But he’s going to have to step up, it’s true.”

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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